The Perfect Storm

2000, Movie, PG-13, 129 mins


Wolfgang Petersen directed DAS BOOT. Sebastian Junger's nonfiction best-seller was riveting. The special effects are state of the art. So why is this account of the fate of the Andrea Gail, a 70-foot swordfishing boat that vanished in the middle of the storm of the century, so oddly slapdash? October, 1991: The Andrea Gail leaves Gloucester, MA, manned by seasoned captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney), warring tough guys Murph (John C. Reilly) and Sully (William Fichtner), quiet Albert Pierre (Allen Payne), sad-sack Bugsy (John Hawkes) and rookie Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg). Forced far afield by poor fishing, the crew has no idea that three weather systems are about to converge and unleash a tempest of unparalleled proportions. Since the fate of the Andrea Gail is ultimately unknowable, journalist Junger cast a wide narrative net, interspersing interviews with survivors of the "perfect storm" with side trips into historic disasters at sea, the economics of commercial fishing, the physics of weather and background on the Andrea Gail's crew. Petersen also pursues several narrative threads, periodically cutting away to a foundering sailboat and her crew of three; the Coast Guard rescuers dispatched to aid stranded sailors; and the ordeal by waiting of family and friends ashore. But while books can digress at will, Hollywood films must move forward like sharks or die. Petersen's efforts to keep things moving are infelicitous: Enthralling details are thrown overboard, Christopher MacDonald wallows in the role of a TV meteorologist who expounds on how that whopper of a storm is developing, and James Horner's overbearing score labors to whip up emotion at every turn. Make no mistake, the weather effects are stunning (not real-looking, but impressive none the less), several scenes pack a powerful emotional wallop, and the downbeat conclusion is a bracing antidote to Hollywood's usual feel-good endings. But, overall, the book is a far more rewarding experience than the movie. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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